Little Points Add Up Big In NHRA Countdown
There’s only one race left in 2011 on the NHRA Full Throttle racing schedule and if you want close competition, then Pomona is the place to go next weekend.
The Auto Club NHRA Finals WILL end the 60th Anniversary season and champions will be crowned at the awards ceremony the next day at the Grand Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highline Center in Hollywood, Calif.
The question is: Just who will win in the nitro classes?
Top Fuel is so close with just two points between comeback leader, Spencer Massey of Don Schumacher Racing versus Del Worsham of Al-Anabi Racing. Then it’s DSR’s Antron Brown in third only 14 points out, followed by Al-Anabi’s Larry Dixon 44 points down.
I see a pattern forming.
All four are viable and quite capable of winning the Top Fuel Full Throttle Championship. No doubt. It’s just who will get the winning break, by a holeshot or red light or be so strong on race day, the other cars can’t run with them. Those are the some of the variables that could affect the outcome of this tight points battle.
Here’s another key ingredient: the small points.
Yes, the NHRA points are broken down to 100 points for the winner, with 80 for runnerup, 60 for semi-finals, and 40 for the quarterfinals, and 20 for first round. Add to those 10 points for being a contestant at an NHRA National event.
Then you total the qualifying points of 1st – 8; 2nd – 7; 3rd – 6; 4th – 5; 5th & 6th – 4; 7th & 8th – 3; 9th thru 12th – 2; 13th thru 16th – 1.
Then on every qualifying round of the four scheduled offer performance bonus of three points for Low ET of the session, two for second quickest and one point for the third quickest ET of the session.
These are the small points that are making all the difference.
In addition to a car’s performance on the track, any team establishing an official Elapsed Time receives an additional 20 points worth a full round in eliminations.
So, if you win the race, run Low ET for all four qualifying rounds being the No 1 qualifier, and set a National Record, the maximum total points a driver can receive at a NHRA National Event are 150.
Every race those possible 12 points total for low ET per qualifying session points are considerable.
Just to prove my argument, there are only two points between Massey and Worsham. So technically, the lead could be swapped during qualifying four times even before eliminations even start. It’s the same in Funny Car.
Taking NASCAR’s late Dale Earnhardt’s approach, just drop the rag and let’s go. Win the race and the points will take care of themselves.
“I believe when it's all said and done, I'm going to have to win in Pomona and win the Finals,” said a confident Worsham, a resident in nearby Chino Hills, Calif. “The competition out there is awful tough, and everybody runs pretty well. Dixon is barely two rounds back, and Antron and myself are both in the same round with Spencer right now.
“So at the very beginning of the season we went to Winter Nationals and drove my first race in Top Fuel in 17 years, and I saw the level of competition and what was going on right away. We were not going to have a world champion until the Finals. The competition is too tough. Everybody's too good.
“They are great drivers, everybody peaks at different times, and basically I feel good about going into Pomona right now with a win in Las Vegas, and a brand new car that runs great, and a team that's been in this position before.
“I'm the new guy here. I'm the guy that's never been in this position before, but I have a lot of people around me who have who are definitely supporting me.”
(Photo B – Antron Brown)
Meanwhile, Brown has had the lead twice in the five of six Countdown races and never has been as far back as he is now in third, 14 points down.
“Well, I think the biggest difference is that in drag racing, it's so short and sweet,” said the New Jersey native. “There are some mind games that go on. But the thing about it is when we get up there, it's like put up or shut up.
“You've got to go over there into that work mode, because you know who you race. And a lot of people say, well, we race the racetrack, and we do this, we do that. That's a lie.
“I mean, I can tell you right now from experience no matter what I race, I know who I'm racing, and I know why I'm racing them. I know what they normally do, and how they normally do it. I know what I need to do to try to get that round win. That's what you try to do.
“You don't go up and race the racetrack and let it fall where it falls, because if they tell you that, they're lying to you.
“I can give you a good example. I raced Del this last weekend. I went up there and his car was running well. My car ran well the round before. The thing about it is it's for a championship. I put it all on the line. I leaned on it. I looked in the tree and I thought it was yellow, and I took off. I beat myself that one there.
“‘The thing about it is the intensity of whom you're racing. Because you're racing such talented drivers and you want to give it your all, that you go up there and push. If you're not pushing it, you're not working hard for that championship.”
It’s even more outrageous in Funny Car. One point is all that separates the two DSR cars of Matt Hagan and Jack Beckman. In third is Cruz Pedregon, just 26 away and JFR’s Mike Neff is fourth, 34 points out. The longshots are Robert Hight and Ron Capps, unfortunately, they are 71 and 72 points out of contention, respectively, and would need a watershed moment to win.
(Photo C – Jack Beckman)
Norco, Calif.’s Beckman was the leader in the Funny Car standings going into Las Vegas and now finds his team in second. Although he is a slim one point from DSR teammate Hagan, to win the title outright with this tight competition would signify his quest of a long racing journey.
“It would mean so much,” said Beckman, the winner of three Funny Car races in 2011, including his recent Phoenix victory. “I won the Super Comp Championship in 2003. The Pro cars are what most of us aspire to drive, but it's no less competitive in the Sportsman division.
“That year, I had to get to the fifth round to win the championship in Super Comp, and I actually made it to the sixth round and locked that up. So, it's a similar position, and I was quite a bit behind there and only one point behind now.
“But with the way the point structure works for round wins, which are 20 points, even though we're only one point behind Matt Hagan right now that means that's an entire round we've got to make up. So there is definitely pressure there.”
(Photo D- Cruz Pedregon)
Cruz Pedregon has two Funny Car titles to his name and both were comeback victories. He won his first champion’s ring in 1992 and repeated 16 years later in 2008.
What puts Pedregon in special company is he’s doing it his way. He calls all the shots on his car. He’s out hustling money to keep the car on the track. Pedregon Racing’s only teammate is his brother, Tony, who missed the Countdown for the first time in 14 years.
He’s only 26 points out, facing the multicar teams of Don Schumacher’s four (Hagan, Beckman, Capps, and Johnny Gray) and John Force’s three Funny Cars (Neff, Hight and Force himself) and their brain trust of four crew chiefs (Guido Antonelli, Ron Douglas, Bernie Fedderly and driver Neff as tuner).
“There are some disadvantages here and there, but I try not to think too much about the disadvantages,” said Dallas winner Pedregon.
“I try to think of the advantages of not having a whole bunch of guys that have to get along. If we learn something, we can keep it in house and not share it with four or five other guys.
“I'm definitely not at an advantage, that's for sure. So, somewhere along the line, I'm probably at a disadvantage. But, for me, the hardest thing, and I need to work on this for next year, is to go from thinking about the car day in and day out and then have to get in there and compete at a high level against some of these drivers.
“Our cars run as good or better than these other guys. Give or take there are always those rounds. But, I think for sure if I've got to work on something, I've got to work on me. And that is trying to focus my attention on Sunday is to try to be the best that I can be. I think, head to head, I like our chances.
“Because a lot of these guys, that's all they think about, and they're good at it. I'm over there thinking about clothes and timing plots and this and that and oh, I've got to race. So, for me, I'll try to shore up those weak areas and hopefully we can.
“The fact that we're competing for a championship with a one car team, I think it's phenomenal. Nobody wants to hear about phenomenal. My sponsors want me to win just like the other guys. I like the fact that we're in it. We’ll stack all the dice on racing, and we'll see what happens at the end.”